Close-Up: Why adland should open its borders

Agencies can benefit from recruiting outside the advertising industry, Caroline Lovell writes.

When Campaign put out feelers to find out which agencies had hired people from different industries to specifically bring new thinking and skill-sets to their offering, the silence was deafening.

Looking around, there is a lot of switchover between creative disciplines, with people listing the film and music industries on their CVs, but hardly any from further afield.

One reason for this is that graduate trainees often go through the same educational channels and are picked from a handful of top universities or art colleges. The danger with this process is that agencies risk ending up with an army of ad people all thinking and saying the same thing.

In the past, ad agencies were more open, picking from a diverse pool of people, and used copy tests, a practice now abandoned, to hire fresh and unusual talent.

Jeremy Bullmore, the former JWT chairman, says: "Discontented barristers, would-be politicians, psychiatrists, engineers, soldiers, poets and frustrated journalists could all be found in agencies. They brought with them outside experience, confidence, originality and high intelligence. If agency intake is invariably straight from university or straight from art college, nobody is importing the fresh air that the business continually needs."

One benefit of looking outside the normal recruitment channels, and hiring people from different industries, is that you end up with a fresh perspective on advertising.

Naked Communications is one agency that has extended its recruiting net beyond the usual talent pool. Will Collin, a partner at Naked, says: "Communication is now a far broader discipline than ever before and clients' problems apply to many aspects of business, not just what they are going to do with advertising.

"You need to have people who look at problems slightly differently. It is not about having a specific set of experiences but having the right psychological make-up and appetite for problem-solving."

Some agencies are beginning to hire staff with multiple skills-sets. For example, VCCP hired a planner, Richard Reynolds, who moonlights as the "Guerrilla Gardener", while Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy brings in consultants who are doctors in psychology or semiotics.

One of these is Jon Stokes, a business psychologist and a co-founder of Stokes & Jolly, a leadership coaching and management development consultancy. He says: "Advertising is all about confidence, and it attracts people who are preoccupied with issues of confidence. It has a neurotic worry about itself not being good or serious enough. It is this lack of self-confidence which leads them to not bring in heavyweight people from the outside world."

Many agencies would relish the opportunity to inject a fresh and provocative dynamic into their teams, but it's not surprising that, in tough economic times, they may be nervous about taking on radical - and potentially disruptive - talent from other industries. And taking a chance on someone who has no relevant advertising experience and is probably many years into their career is an added risk.

Because of this, Robin Wight, the president of The Engine Group and the founder of The Ideas Foundation, believes there needs to be a focus on training people in multi-skills at the start of their careers and identifying talent among ethnic minorities that would lead to a widening of the industry's overall skill-set.

"Broadly speaking, we have been guilty of creating our own silos. The real challenge is that the industry is in danger of training people for an industry that doesn't exist any more; this isn't an industry whose bedrock is the 30-second commercial. This is not a case for employing random outsiders but for bringing into the advertising industry a broader skill-set," Wight says.

Some agencies are already attempting this. Engine has introduced job-swapping and Wieden & Kennedy runs WK Side, a three-month placement for those outside advertising, which has already produced some interesting work such as a huge rat run that was displayed in the agency's front window. The recruits are paid a nominal salary but get to work on live briefs.

Despite good work from the IPA and The Ideas Foundation, which are leading the battle to get schoolchildren interested in advertising, the industry should be more diverse in how it recruits, whether that starts at school level or mid-career.

If it fails to do this, it risks losing its spark and originality. As Neil Christie, the managing director of Wieden & Kennedy London, says: "If you hire ordinary advertising people, you get ordinary advertising."


Sam Alonso, strategy director, Naked Communications

Alonso, a Venezuelan, has always had an interest in marketing and branding, but didn't make the move into advertising until later on in her career.

After graduating as an industrial engineer, Alonso joined McKinsey, advising companies on issues of strategy, organisation, technology and operations in Latin America.

Two-and-a-half years into her job there, she decided to change career path. After completing an MBA at Manchester Business School, focusing on marketing and branding, she joined Johnson & Johnson in a marketing role. Then, in September 2006, she arrived at Naked as a senior strategist.

"Marketing and branding has been a theme throughout my whole career. It got to a point when I knew I wanted to exploit marketing in its fullest sense," she says.

Alonso's background in management consultancy means that she puts a business perspective at the heart of everything, and is comfortable having numbers-based discussions, heading up Naked's brand business strategy.

Will Collin, a partner at Naked, says: "Coming from a management consultancy background, Sam has an intellectual and precise approach to problem-solving, a rigorous focus on the thought process and is specific about the nature of the task.

"Sometimes the industry can be criticised for winging it; the management consultancy methodology is more precise."

Alonso sees herself as the bridge between the world of management consultancy, where everything is driven by numbers, and advertising, where intuition plays a key role.


Jon Stokes, director, Stokes & Jolly

Stokes has worked as a business and organisational psychologist for 20 years, consulting for commercial and public-sector organisations.

He started his career as a chartered clinical psychologist at the mental health trust Tavistock, later becoming the chairman of the adult department of the Tavistock Clinic and the head of career and educational consultation.

This led Stokes to found the Tavistock Consultancy Service, which offers advice and executive coaching to organisations. He is now a co-director, alongside Richard Jolly, at the leadership coaching and management development consultancy Stokes & Jolly, where he has been introduced to the world of advertising.

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy is one agency that uses Stokes' expertise as a clinical psychologist, on a consultancy basis within the planning department.

He has worked on projects for the Metropolitan Police and the Inland Revenue to help MCBD understand people's behaviour and offer an empirical scientific basis for the agency's ideas. Stokes works within MCBD's planning strategy, sparking off conversations and acting as a catalyst to complement the smaller conventional research.

Andy Nairn, the planning director at MCBD, says: "People in focus groups often don't say what they mean because it questions their self-identity. He is very good at getting under their skin and is up-to-date with modern ways to show how minds work. He comes to it with a very different approach and might introduce a new model or thought, or point us in the direction of some academic reading we would never have thought of."